Transphorm tackles the grid's energy leakage problem

The California startup has come up with an alternate materials approach for power conversion technologies that would let them run cooler, resulting in less waste.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Energy-efficiency habits and technologies are already a recurring theme just one month into 2012. There are all sorts of different challenges that a technology startup could tackle in this regard, not the least of which is the energy that is leaked throughout the electric grid during the power conversion process. That's exactly what California company Transphorm is trying to address with its approach to power conversion technologies.

The Santa Barbara-based company has come up with a new approach to the transistor; its technologies use gallium nitride semiconductor materials rather than the traditional sorts of silicon-based components that are included in various power conversion circuits. I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty, because I am not an electrical engineer but the overall aim is to make power conversion systems run cooler. Because they run cooler, Transphorm CEO Umesh Mishra said his company's technologies cause less energy to be wasted. That's important because Transphorm cites figures estimating that at least 12 percent of the energy generated in the United States alone is lost during the conversions that happen between direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) systems.

For perspective, that is approximately the amount of energy that it would take 300 coal-fired power plants to produce.

"What Transphorm does is increase the efficiency of this conversion while simultaneously decreasing the size of the unit," Mishr said during my conversation with him in the fall of 2011.

With the focus on energy efficiency increasing, Transphorm is definitely a player to watch, if the amount of venture capital the company has raised is any indication. As of June 2011, the company had raised total funds of $63 million. Its Series D round of $25 million was led by Quantum Strategic Partners, a fund managed by Soros Fund Management, along with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google Ventures, Foundation Capital and Lux Capital. The company has also snagged financing from the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) to the tune of $2.95 million.

(Image by Christa Richert; courtesy of Stock.xchng)

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